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A Surprise Package for the Postman

WASHINGTON POST

It was easy to give postman Michael Wilson a surprise party. Easy because when Barbara Abramowitz asked Wilson if he could bring the mail to her house at about 2 p.m. one day last week, she knew he’d be there.

He’s there when it snows, leaving the mail on the back porch so elderly residents won’t slip on the ice. He’s there bringing the newspaper to the door if no one’s home, or retrieving the empty garbage can from the curb on trash day. Carrying irradiated mail, wearing white rubber gloves, on or off antibiotics, he’s there, still smiling, still part of the life of this neighborhood in Northwest Washington.

He is a constant. A sure thing in an uncertain time. And these days, that turns folks into heroes. Even if it is just the neighborhood variety.

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“We live in a big city,” says Abramowitz, “but he makes our neighborhood like living in a small town.” And residents wanted to say thanks for that.

It’s just after 2 and when Wilson knocks, about a half-dozen people crowd the door. Lillian Kronstadt is there. She’s made her special three-layer Jell-O mold, and her 4-year-old grandson, Max, who always runs to the door to greet Wilson on his rounds, yells “Surprise!” and hugs his legs.

Wilson, 35, is speechless for a few seconds, then says, “You did this for me?”

For a moment it seems the letter carrier might tear up. But he is quickly assaulted by well-wishes and neighbors and their sweets, and his tears retreat.

Wilson knows the folks along his route of the past seven years, but he didn’t know a party was brewing. Abramowitz hatched the idea, then called some neighbors and followed Wilson along his route a few days ago, slipping invitations into mailboxes.

“I think since Sept. 11, there’s been a lot more awareness that we need to thank people for what they do,” says Abigail Wiebenson, director of the nearby Lowell School, which always gets tons of mail. “Especially if they’re small things, because those are the people we tend to take for granted.”

Wilson, who lives in suburban Clinton, Md., with his wife and two daughters, doesn’t do big, dramatic, save-the-day kinds of feats, residents say. But they count on him for knowing the names of kids and grandkids and playmates and pets, for keeping track of the minutiae and mail along his 167 stops.

Along with the cake and soft drinks were quite a few presents: cards with a little something tucked inside, and one rather unorthodox gift. “The rabbi is going to give the postman a certificate for ham,” says Abramowitz’s husband, Rabbi A. Nathan Abramowitz. “I would have preferred a kosher barbecue chicken.”

Wilson protests the cake, which says in red cursive script, “Michael Wilson is the best.”

“I don’t know the right things to say,” he says. “I just treat people the same way I want to be treated.”

When people say “I appreciate what you do,” that makes the job special, he says. Like when residents invite him into their lives. “They’ll say ‘My daughter is going to graduate, do you want to come by?’ ... There are so many professionals up here, they could really turn their noses up, but they don’t do that at all.”

Henrietta Schulman, 78, sits near Wilson. After her husband died last year she moved from her house of 57 years to a suburban retirement community, but she came back “to see Michael.” “He’s special,” Schulman says. “I called and told the post office they should have more like him.”

It’s a little after 3 and the party is winding down. People have to return to their jobs and appointments and routines. And Wilson returns to his mail truck, loaded down with cake and gifts and the gratitude of the people he sees every day.


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